Who are the people that teach at Georgetown? How did they get to be where they are today: standing in a packed auditorium lecturing about realist theory or leading a vibrant discussion about poetry? As a student, I know why I go to class each day, but why do my professors get up to teach? By creating individual professor profiles, I hope to investigate these questions and am starting with Professor David Ebenbach from the English department.
Professor Ebenbach teaches Creative Writing and Fiction. However, as an undergraduate at Oberlin College, he majored in psychology and DJ-ed a hip-hop radio show on the side. Professor Ebenbach earned a Doctorate in psychology but continued to take writing courses on the side: “I was sort of cheating on psychology with writing all the time.” After establishing himself as a professional writer, Professor Ebenbach stopped pursuing his college major to work in the field he loved. If he could change something about his college experience, Professor Ebenbach would take a broader range of classes. “I would go back to college and I would just not major in anything. I would take women studies, and art history, and dance, and physics, and anthropology, and everything.”
“I get excited about understanding things. I feel like I go through life not understanding things…I write and I can find my way into the thoughts of people and the experiences of people…I love that process of writing for knowledge,” says Professor Ebenbach. Writing is a vehicle for understanding questions about happiness and people’s bizarre behavior, which Professor Ebenbach invites his students to test-drive and explore. In class, he hopes to not only help students improve their writing skills, he strives to help them find their own voices and “find a way that they can speak to the world.” Empathy and generosity toward the work of other students characterize the atmosphere in Professor Ebenbach’s classes and constitute a mindset he hopes sticks with students after the semester ends.
Writing isn’t just a lens for understanding; it is also a form of art. “I think of writing somewhat musically at some times. It’s about hitting the right notes at the right time and spacing things apart properly,” says Professor Ebenbach. Creative writing can be enjoyed for the feelings that pieces evoke. In the same way, Professor Ebenbach appreciates music, from hip-hop to classical to house, for the mixture of sound and the overall experience. He doesn’t always analyze lyrics. Afro Celt Sound System, New Order, Zoe Keating and John Coltrane are among Professor Ebenbach’s favorite groups and artists.
Apart from writing and music, Professor Ebenbach also enjoys visual arts, especially modernist works. From Mondrian to Picasso to Hopper, he admires the way artists directly evoke the emotions of the viewer. “The visual artists make me kind of jealous because they are working directly with color and form and, so they have that immediate impact on the person taking it in, whereas I have to try to evoke that [emotion] with words, which are really weak.” In the DC area, Professor Ebenbach loves visiting the Hirshhorn museum and recently enjoyed an exposition at the Portrait Gallery: “American Cool.”
Books also constitute a huge part of Professor Ebenbach’s love of art. While living in New York City one year after September 11th, Professor Ebenbach discovered his favorite book. On the anniversary, people feared another attack and worried about commuting to work. As a piece of comfort, Professor Ebenbach read Faulkner on the subway and in a café before work. “I carried with me, almost like a Bible, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, and I just read it the whole time I was going to work… and that made me feel very alive.” To find a good book, Professor Ebenbach recommends going to a bookstore or library, pulling lots of books off the shelf, reading the first page of each, and deciding if the piece seems interesting. Social media can also be a source of quality book recommendations, he notes.
Whether approaching books, visual art, music or the classroom, one big principle guides the way Professor Ebenbach strives to live. “It’s all about empathy. It’s all about realizing that everybody got where they are somehow… and approaching people with that kind of sacred intention of respecting who they are and expecting them to be complicated. Empathy.”
Songs that Professor Ebenbach enjoys:
Slipping Away – Nine Inch Nails
Tori’s full conversation with Professor Ebenbach can be found here:
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Photo: Tori Morgan/The Georgetown Voice
I love the way he looks at writing